The Lord Is My Shepherd
November 7, 2010
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
1. Today is All Saints' Day. A great host of family members and relatives, who have been called to heaven, are holding audience with us. [I am] happy that [we] can worship with [them]. [This] is the sixth All Saints' Day for me at Shoei Church. Since I have come to Shoei Church, I have conducted funeral services for thirty-three persons (including non church members). On those occasions I had read each time the words from Psalm twenty-three, which I read just a few moments ago. Therefore, as I read this psalm, the faces of many of these persons come to my mind. Just as we sang in the hymn shortly ago, "This day, when I close my eyes, I recall the light of the Lord, when it covered over a friend," (Hymn number 21-385), "the light of the Lord," which covered over each one of those people, will surely come into remembrance. This psalm must have also been a special psalm for everyone who has gathered here for services. Today, I would like for us to experience this psalm together as we recall [this] light of the Lord which has covered over those beloved and dear to us.
The Lord Is My Shepherd
2. To begin, I will read to you from verses one to three.
A Hymn Of Praise. A Poem By David.
The Lord is [my] shepherd, I shall never lack for anything.
The Lord causes me to rest in fields of green grass
He accompanies [me] by the banks of tranquil waters
He restores [my] soul. (23:1-3a)
4. This is a psalm which has written in it "A Poem By David," but that doesn't necessarily mean that the very same David who is found in the Old Testament scriptures had authored the poem; for then it would have its own implications as a song written and associated with David. Still, be it David or some other person, this is clearly not the song of someone's young days. Judging from its contents, I would guess instead that it is the song of a person who had gone through a long life and it is a song from their last years.
5. As for this song, [its author] has sung of God as the shepherd, and of himself as a sheep nourished by that shepherd. However, when his life approached its twilight, what he sang was not a song of how "As a serious sheep to this point so far I have been splendidly obedient to the shepherd." Instead of being a song about that, it is a song in which he sings joyfully, that "The shepherd is looking out for a lot of sheep, however, he has [still] cared so much for me, he has led me, and supported me plentifully!" In [the Japanese] New Interconfessional Version, the opening sentence is "The Lord is the shepherd," but in the original text it says, "The Lord is my shepherd." A lot of people have memorized it in a previous translation that says, "Since the Lord is my pastor, I will never be destitute." Yes, the Lord certainly "has been my shepherd, and he is my shepherd now as well," [and this I] say joyfully.
6. But even so, the words, "the Lord is [my] shepherd, I shall never lack for anything" are curious words; for, during life, a person may experience "lacking [for something]" any number of times. [One] may have shortages. One may experience destitution. One loses things. Things get stolen. These kinds of things go on any number of times along the journey of life. One could argue that in some sense life is but losing one thing after another as one lives. We lose close relatives, we lose friends, we lose our health. We'll not be able to do what we used to be able to do. Then, we will ultimately lose [our] lives on this earth. If you fix your eyes on the things that you are losing, it looks that way for sure. But this person is not saying that. Instead, he is fixing his eyes on what is being given right now. And he is fixing his eyes on the one who gives it. He is thinking of the shepherd who is with him. In a sense, it is enough for [this one] sheep when the shepherd is there with it.
7. When [I] read this passage this way, I am reminded of the many persons already called [home to glory]. [I re-call these people that] even though they surely had a bunch of hard times, when they open their mouth to speak, they will say, "[I'm] so very thankful!" As they look upon the many things they had been given, they will say, "[I'm] so very thankful!" When we get close to the end of our time, I would like for us to be able to say the same thing.
8. "The Lord is [my] shepherd, I shall never lack for anything."
Even When I've Walked In The Valley Of The Shadow Of Death
9. Let's read next from verses three and four.
The Lord guides me on the right path appropriately by his name.
Even when I've walked in the valley of the shadow of death, I will not fear catastrophe.
You are with me.
Your rod and your staff
They encourage me. (23:3b-4)
11. The shepherd shows the sheep the way. God the Shepherd shows us the right path. "The right path" means "the path of righteousness," it is not the path that leads to destruction, but is the path that leads to deliverance and salvation. The path that leads to deliverance is not always the level path. What a human can see and what God sees are usually not the same. When looked at from the human perspective, the path that is not steep, the level way looks to be the blessed way, the way of salvation. But, the who one knows the right path is the shepherd and not the sheep. The author of Psalm twenty-three knows this. Therefore, he says, "Even when I've walked in the valley of the shadow of death ..." He doesn't say that since the shepherd is guiding me I will never pass through "the valley of the shadow of death."
12. As a matter of fact, [the author] has experienced a number of times so far, experiences like that of going through [some] "valley of the shadow of death." As long as we are alive in this world, we cannot avoid passing through "the valley of the shadow of death." Indeed, if I may go even further, a person will have to go through "the valley of the shadow of death" in the truest sense at the end of his or her life. Thus, even though a person is led by the shepherd, he or she is supposed to pass through "the valley of the shadow of death." At that moment, when you can only turn your eyes to the darkness of "the valley of the shadow of death," you will probably be forced to say that is an unhappy [situation]. When problems at home have developed, your eyes only look at the problem. When you've been sick, your eyes only look at the sickness. When there are people who hurt you, your eyes only look at those hurting you. When you get close to the end of your life, your eyes will only look at the reality called "death." That is an unhappy [situation].
13. We do not need to live as such unhappy people. The [author] declares the following. "Even when I've walked in the valley of the shadow of death, I will not fear catastrophe." Why not? Because he can say, "You are with me." That's right, he is walking with the shepherd. Guided by the shepherd he walks. [We] should turn [our] eyes on Him. In fact, aren't we gathered in this place of worship so that we do that? Yes, we are; here in this place we are turning are thoughts to God, we are offering up praise, we are offering up prayers, we are listening carefully to the Word. Therefore, we should be living that way.
My Cup Overflows
14. Next I will read verse five.
Even though I am in the presence of those who hurt me
You prepare for me a table.
You pour oil over my head
You make my cup overflow. (23:5)
16. From this [verse] on, Psalm twenty-three changes the way it describes God. At this point there is a master of the house instead of a shepherd. It is the master of the house who welcomes and serves as host with an abundance to the one who has been hurt by the enemy. He expresses all of the host's abundant service with preparing the table, pouring the oil, and filling the cup with wine. He brings strength to the guest who has been hurt by the enemy. Also, "the oil" in particular stands for joy in Psalm forty-five and else where. The person who puts himself or herself under the master of the house will experience the master's hosting, be encouraged, and be filled with joy.
17. Please pay attention here in this text that the image of a general doing battle with the enemy is not being used here. There are certainly other passages of scripture where that type of image of God is used. But here it is different. The concerns of the master who is being described here are not on the enemy but are on the person who has fled away. Nothing in the text has anything about the Lord "causing me to flee from the hand of the enemy." In short, the scripture does not state about God that he has taken away the one who causes the hurt or that he has let [someone] flee from the one who causes the harm.
18. If everyone who hurts you is gone, will you be able to be happy? Does joy first come after [your] problems are taken away? If that were true, you could never be happy in your lifetime, and it would be impossible to live in unchanging joy. But it is not that way, rather, the scripture here is declaring about God that he will serve as your host in an abundant way, he will strengthen you, and he will fill you with joy, even though you are amid those who will hurt you, even though you are in this painful world of reality. "Oh God, there's nowhere good to eat. So, I'm in pain. Please make it all go away and let me go to a place of shelter!" Do you say that? But it seems as if God says, "No, first have a share in the abundant meal of the spirit! Get strength! Get joy! Be healthy! This is what I'll do for you." I think this [author] as he has lived by faith has experienced this very thing over and over. And we too are granted to have a share in this same grace.
Forever In The Palace Of The Lord
19. Finally now, I will read verse six.
As long as there is life
Grace and mercy will always pursue me.
I will return to the house of the Lord
All my life I will dwell in it. (23:6)
21. God's grace and mercy are pursing [us]. That's right. God's grace is not something obtained at length after we pursue it frantically and cut a deal, saying, "Please give me a share since I am doing this and that!" Grace and mercy are pursing [us]. The thing is most of the time we just don't have our eyes turned towards it. We just don't notice it. The [author] could see it. We ought to see it as well.
22. In addition, the [author] also knows where to turn as he is pursued by grace. He knows where he ought to go back to. It is [to] "the house of the Lord." The word "life" in the second half of verse six is often translated as "for ever." The place we ought to return. It is the house of the Lord in which we will dwell with the Lord for ever. We will soon return to the One who keeps leading mercifully in our lives and who keeps nourishing us. And, we will dwell with the Him for ever.
23. We are holding a worship service and commemorating those who have already been called [home to be with the Lord], and we will also soon be joined to their ranks. Life will soon come to its end. In a bereaved life, it is important to ask "What will you do?," [but] it is probably more important to ask "Where are you turning your eyes [as] you live? Our limited lives also have eternal significance precisely because we are being led by the one we should expect to lead and we are turned to the place we ought to return.